An Analogy from Avisak by the N'gegos

Sepik River l East Sepik Province l 28 May 2021

The Frieda river Gold and Copper mine can be likened to a vehicle. When it first started and was in the exploration stage. We, the people of Avisak would see helicopters bussing and whooshing across the sky almost every day, back and forth the project site. We would see barges and boats going up and down the Avisak. We had numerous visits from the people of Xstrata. After a while, Xstrata was no more, in its place came PanAust.

The vehicle called ‘Frieda Mine’ was on the move. The sound of it throttling and accelerating its engine had everyone talking about it. Some people told us it will bring development. Other people talk about the environmental destruction it would bring to Avisak. Some people on the banks of Avisak were excited, others, worried. We were worried because of Avisak. We feared that Avisak would be lost forever.

But there was no one to listen to our fears and help us voice our concerns to the company, government and to the world.

And in those uncertain times when we were disempowered and felt helpless, we heard a voice from the distant. It was a small voice and although small, it was considerable, it was hope. It shared our fears and concerns.

We identified that the voice was coming from an energy, a force. We said we would give the voice a face, eyes, body, arms and legs. We will stand with that voice and give it power to speak for and on behalf of us for the Avisak.  Over the years, that voice grew and became very loud.

The united nations, tribes and clans of Avisak assembled to ensure that growing voice is not drowned.  We the united nations of the length and breadth of Avisak are now the voice.   That voice has become our voice, it became us, and it became Project Sepik.

Since Project Sepik started, it had been slowly dismantling the vehicle we call ‘Frieda Mine’. When it released the reports with its partners, it removed the front right wheel of the vehicle. When the n’gegos of Avisak united and issued the Supreme Sukundimi Declaration, we removed the left front wheel.  The East Sepik government’s Assembly decision to reject the EIS development Proposal, it removed the right back wheel with the support of the West Sepik Provincial government Assembly. When our East Sepik Provincial Governor, Allan Bird issued a warning to the national government that he would take them to court if they pursue the Frieda Mine, he helped removed the left back wheel.

The vehicle now sits idle and immobile. It cannot move without its wheels. We saw the exploration come to a slow hum, engine running but immobile.  We celebrated but knew that they would still come back for the treasures buried under the soils of Sepik Region, under our great lands.

We have realised that the engine is still running and in good condition. The company and the government will come back to install new tyres to get it going but that will not happen.

We are many, we are united and strong. We will oppose the Frieda mine project and kill the engine.

Avisak is still not safe, as long as the vehicle has potential to be back on the road.

The only way to protect Avisak is to put the engine out. We are fully behind Project Sepik to do that………….to kill the engine once and for all.

‘ The people of Sepik River are not going to meet PanAust halfway. The people are not going to sit and listen quietly to PanAust, while the company tells them what PanAust plans to do. PanAust needs to listen to the people of the Sepik River. If they don’t, the mine will destroy the Sepik River, and it will destroy our lives along with it. ’

Emmanuel Peni, Project Sepik

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